Category Archives: Sweets and Desserts

sweet treat ideas and recipes

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

What’s in the chocolate syrup that is stirred into milk and served to those kids who are always smiling in the commercials on TV?  What does it have to do with wood-pulp industry by-products?  Read on…

Recently, I looked at the labels on the bottles of chocolate syrup in the supermarket.  Most of them listed “high fructose corn syrup” as the main ingredient, then corn syrup, and another sugar.   Cocoa was on the list of ingredients, but often 4th, after all the sugars.  Then there were the polysorbates, the mono and diglycerides, xanthan gum, artificial flavors and vanillin.  Vanillin?  If you want to delve deep into chemistry, just look up “vanillin” online.  It’s pretty depressing: vanillin is synthesized from a by-product of the wood pulp industry called lignin, or an even more mysterious word called guiaicol (described as a yellow-tinged oil) and at that point the multi-syllabic words and chemical processes made my brain tired, and I quit reading.  I am pretty sure that Walter White, the chemistry teacher from “Breaking Bad”, would be a helpful resource when trying to understand how vanillin is manufactured.  But whether or not you stayed awake in chemistry class, it doesn’t take long to realize that vanillin is not what we want to be consuming or feeding to our families, especially in something as simple as chocolate milk.  Many websites advise avoiding vanillin in the diets of children with ADHD (along with other artificial colors and flavors).

I looked up homemade chocolate syrup recipes online and for the most part, they called for sugar, cocoa powder, and a few harmless extras like salt, or butter or vanilla extract.

But I was trying to find something even more basic, and healthier.  Most of the ordinary cocoa powders that are on the grocery store shelves today are labelled “Dutch process” or “processed with alkali”.  That’s not an entirely bad thing.  Pure cocoa powder (the kind our grandmothers baked with) can be a little bitter.  So a Dutch chemist figured out how to process the cocoa to make it less acidic.  [This is why some vintage recipes that call for “cocoa” don’t come out quite as nicely as you had expected.  Some of the recipes, passed down from years ago, used cocoa that had not been Dutch processed, and the leavenings are affected (the baking soda and baking powders, for example).  So it’s important to know if the recipe you’re using calls for Dutch processed or natural cocoa.  If it’s from a magazine from the 1940s, or on your grandma’s recipe cards, use natural cocoa.  Recipes today often specify “Dutch process cocoa” and the other ingredients are adjusted accordingly.  It’s possible to buy natural cocoa, but it requires reading all the labels and some stores don’t carry anything but the Dutch processed types.]

Processing cocoa with alkali strips it of some of the healthy properties of chocolate, or else the healthy properties are greatly reduced.  You’ve probably heard that dark chocolate has anti-oxidant properties, and contains flavanols, which can help lower blood pressure and contribute to overall health (when consumed in moderation which, sadly, means we cannot exist on a diet of 100% dark chocolate).  When cocoa is “dutched”, those anti-oxidants and flavanols are significantly lessened.  So it’s not so much the process as the loss of the healthy attributes of pure chocolate that make Dutch process cocoa not as preferable a choice when using cocoa.  The problem is, it’s getting harder and harder to find natural, unprocessed, old-fashioned cocoa.

This led me to trying to make as simple a chocolate syrup as I could.  After a little experimenting, and remembering that raw local honey and maple syrup are good choices of sweeteners, I made this:

Homemade Chocolate Honey Syrup

3/4 cup raw local honey                                                                                                                                     8 ounces pure unsweetened chocolate (I used two 4 ounce Ghiradelli 100% Cacao bars)     1/2 cup water                                                                                                                                                         1/2 tsp salt (I used Redmond Real Salt, which is unrefined and contains minerals)               1 tsp vanilla (good quality, without additives or caramel coloring;  see note below)

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and melt to combine over low heat, stirring occasionally.  Store in a jar or bottle.  Since this is just honey, chocolate and water basically, it really doesn’t need refrigeration, as none of those are routinely refrigerated. 

I found that the next day, the syrup was pretty thick, so I stirred in another half cup of water (didn’t heat it, just stirred the water in.)  It all combined smoothly.  You can adjust the water amount until it’s as thin as you’d like.  

I’m going to experiment a little with this recipe.  I’m going to make another batch and instead of just melting it, I’m going to boil it for about 3 minutes to see if that results in a slightly thinner product.  If you try that, let me know what you think!

My daughter taste-tested this and loved it.  She said she could taste the honey but that wasn’t a negative point.  I did use a rather strong local honey, which was what I had in the pantry,  so if you prefer a milder taste, try to find a local honey that is milder or sweeter.  Many local farmers’ markets or stores like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s will have several honey options to choose from.  You can usually get good advice from those sources about the different tastes of different honeys, and which are milder and which are stronger.

Use this chocolate syrup to make chocolate milk (your choice of milk: oat milk, almond, soy, lactose-free, or regular dairy milk).  Drizzle over ice cream or pound cake.  If it’s too thick, heat it a little or stir in a little water.

Note:  I make my own homemade vanilla extract, from brandy or vodka and vanilla beans.  Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa from the Food Network, has an excellent and simple method of making vanilla extract that is available online.  This allows you to use vanilla that consists of just two ingredients, without caramel color, or additives.  But it’s important to remember while homemade vanilla takes just a few minutes to make, it requires several months to develop the flavors.  You can make a couple of bottles in minutes, and then store them in a dark cool place for several months until they’re ready to use.  So start now and the vanilla will be perfect by late summer or for holiday gifts or hostess gifts in the fall and winter.

 

Frozen Hot Chocolate With Just Two Ingredients (and Neither One Comes From A Little Envelope)

So lately I have been hearing a lot about Frozen Hot Chocolate, and it is a really delicious drink, but it’s expensive, and unless you’re getting it from a little gourmet bistro somewhere, it probably starts with a packet of hot chocolate mix.  Here’s an ingredient list from a popular national brand of instant hot chocolate dry mix:

sugar, corn syrup, modified whey, allkali-processed cocoa, hydrogenated cocnut oil, nonfat milk, calcium carbonate, salt, dipotassium phosphate, mono/diglyderides, artificial flavor.  

No thank you.

So I started looking up recipes for frozen hot chocolate and every one  of them starts out with “take a packet or two of hot chocolate mix”, and then, well, I didn’t read any further.

Could I make it myself with real ingredients, and more importantly, would my daughter give it a passing grade?  (That’s the real test right there.)   And would it taste like frozen hot chocolate?  The challenge:  2 pronounceable ingredients (plus ice).  Here’s what happened:

I poured a quart of milk (I used non-fat) into a large glass bowl and added two 4 ounce bars of good quality chocolate.  I had semi-sweet and 60% (a little more bitter than semi-sweet) on hand, but next time I will use only semi-sweet.  You could also use chocolate chips.  I just microwaved it until the chocolate melted.  Then I thought that since this was going to be blended with ice cubes, I should make it stronger.  So I added 3 more ounces of chocolate.  Basically, just make a chocolate and milk mixture that’s a bit stronger and more chocolate-y than what you’d usually drink for a mug of hot chocolate.  I stirred it until the chocolate and milk were a smooth mixture.

I froze it in ice cube trays.  It took several hours to freeze.  I would suggest letting it freeze overnight.  It took longer than I thought to freeze solidly.

Then, in the blender (you need one that’s ok for crushing ice), I put 8 frozen chocolate cubes, 4 regular ice cubes, and one and a half cups of cold skim milk.  I blended it until it was smooth (it was really thick – you could add more milk if you wanted, but I didn’t want it to be too watered down, and a thick drink was ok with us).  I tasted it and then because I had used bitter chocolate I added one teaspoon of Turbinado sugar.  I wouldn’t have needed that if I had used all semi-sweet or milk chocolate.

I poured it into glasses, and my daughter said it was delicious and drank the entire glass! Test passed.

1 quart milk (skim, almond, regular, whatever; I used skim)                                                               10 – 12 ounces good quality chocolate (semi-sweet or milk, or a combination of both)     Additional 1 1/2 cups of cold milk (for blending, later)                                                                             2 to 4 regular ice cubes (also for blending)

Heat the quart of milk and and the chocolate in a pan over medium heat (stir frequently) or microwave in microwave-safe bowl just until the chocolate melts, and then stir briefly until it’s a smooth mixture.  Pour into ice cube trays.   Let freeze until solid.  Then combine about 6 of the cubes with 2 or 3 regular ice cubes and one and a half cups of cold milk in a blender and blend until it’s a smooth, rich mixture.  You’ll have to use your judgment as to how thick you want this to be (you can add more ice or milk).  Serve immediately, topped with whipped cream, or ice cream, or caramel sauce, or shaved chocolate, or just plain.

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The recipe for the milk and melted chocolate makes about 24 cubes (in regular ice cube trays), and then using 8 cubes, additional ice and a cup and a half of milk made 2 large drinks.  It could easily have served 4 if it hadn’t been so refreshing and delicious, and if we had more will-power and if … well, the excuses could go on and on.  You get the idea.

Chocolate Drops (an easy dessert treat)

Chocolate Drops are one of the simplest quick, small desserts to make and enjoy.

Quickest directions for those more comfortable with cooking:  Temper your choice of dark or semi-sweet chocolate, spoon onto parchment paper by teaspoons, flatten with butter knife or spatula to a very thin layer, top with chopped pistachios, chopped dried cranberries and a tiny sprinkle of coarse salt.  Chill.

More detailed directions:

Really, the only required things you’ll need to make these is parchment paper and chocolate.  It’s pretty easy to get parchment paper at any grocery store or any store that sells foils and wraps.   The toppings are up to your imagination.20140311_182233

Place about 2 cups of chocolate chips, or 8 ounces of chocolate (semi-sweet, dark, milk, whatever your preference is) in either a microwave-safe bowl or a stainless steel bowl or a double boiler.  A smaller pot set inside a larger pot works, as long as the smaller pot will not fall completely into the larger pot.

Either microwave the chocolate until it’s melted (do it carefully and slowly, don’t burn it), or melt the chocolate in the bowl or smaller pot over boiling water.  If you choose this melting method, make sure not to splash any water into the chocolate.  It’s amazing how badly that ends up.

Set out a long piece of parchment paper, about 18 inches long.

When the chocolate has melted, you can transfer it to a plastic bag and snip the end off (so it’s like a pastry bag) or you can simply use a spoon.

Put about a teaspoon of chocolate onto the parchment paper and swirl it with a butter knife or small spatula until it’s a thin, circular shape.  Sprinkle with chopped pistachios, chopped dried cranberries and a tiny bit of kosher salt.  Of course, you can change this up however you’d like: dried cherries, a different kind of nut, no nuts, candied fruit, whatever you like in or on chocolate.

Let them set in a cold place or in the fridge until they’re hardened and then enjoy!